New Issue of Elle U.K. Tries Its Darnedest to 'Rebrand' FeminismS

Elle U.K. has paired three feminist groups with three award-winning advertising agency to rebrand feminism, a term that "many feel has become burdened with complications and negativity," as the magazine puts it. While it's admirable that the publication is publicly embracing the feminist movement, it's more than a bit unsettling to see feminism reduced to a "brand" — plus, one has to wonder what's lost in courting mass appeal after being remade into some kind of revitalized product.

Swarms and swarms of public figures still shy away from the label, it's true — and feminists are often depicted as hairy, man-hating, shrieking harpies, which doesn't inspire as much blind allegiance as one would hope. Elle U.K. thus created three "rebranding" teams: Charlotte Raven, editor of the Feminist Times, worked with Mother, which was awarded Agency of the Decade by Campaign magazine in order to address gender pay inequality; teenage campaigner Jinan Younis worked with Brave, an agency that's worked with Dior in the past, and their goal was to attempt to get women to reconsider the label; and the co-founders of satirical feminist group Vagenda worked with Wieden + Kennedy, the preferred agency of Nike, in order to challenge gender stereotypes. You can see the full-sized ads here.

Interestingly (or not) enough, this coincides with another "rebranding feminism campaign" that's emerged from the Internet within the past month — this other one is a contest sponsored by Vitamin W (NOT Vitamin Water, which is a very depressing misconception that some have had. Can you imagine corporately sponsored feminism, in which we all write angry blogs whilst wearing sweatpants emblazoned with the logos of big corporations? I would choose Hot Pockets as my sponsor, or maybe Tampax just to keep it real).

Anyway, in Vitamin W's words (which, unfortunately, sound a bit like those of a bored 11th grader working on her Feminism Today essay for AP U.S. History Class very last-minute):

Let's face it. Feminism has been given a bad rap, and gotten a bad rep. Is it really humorless, man-hating, elitist, white, privileged, dogmatic, judgemental [sic], and over? We don't think so. Feminism is responsible for women voting, driving, going to school, owning property and having their own credit cards. All good, right? Yet American women are losing their reproductive rights and are the only citizens of an OECD country to lack maternity leave, as well as experiencing violence, rape culture, inequal opportunity and atmospheric sexism. Plus the wage gap.

Both Elle and Vitamin W raise good points: patriarchy is still alive and kicking (kicking a lot; most kicks are aimed at the uterus), women are reluctant to adopt the label of "feminist" for a wide variety of reasons, and it's hugely important to galvanize people to participate in the feminist movement. It could possibly be better to oversimplify the issue while raising awareness of it and encouraging participation than to not discuss it at all.

However, treating feminism as a "brand" — and trying to help that brand achieve mainstream success — is really troubling. Consumer culture doesn't do women any favors, so it's highly improbable that turning the struggles of women into some sort of appealing commodity will do much to change extant structures of (white, male) power. Furthermore, rejecting the idea that feminists are masculine, aggressive and angry only serves to reinforce patriarchal ideas that women should never be angry or aggressive or masculine. "Rebranding" feminism sounds a lot less like changing dominant culture and much more like capitulating to it.

I think the feminist movement does need to change: it needs to be more inclusive and more aware of a variety of perspectives — i.e., of women of color, poor women, trans women, disabled women, etc. It does not, however, need to "rebrand." It's great that Elle wants to promote the feminist movement. However, as Radhika Sanghani points out at the Telegraph, Elle is an overwhelmingly white fashion publication that airbrushes with gleeful abandon and doesn't do much to promote body diversity — so there's a still quite a lot of progress to be made even in purportedly feminist-friendly territory.

"ELLE rebrands Feminism" [ELLE UK]